Sevens player Ridge Studd was in the midst of an on-field brawl with a rival player when he was punched in the face and knocked to the ground with a serious injury.
Fast-forward two years on and Studd has not only forgiven that rival, 23-year-old Iosefo Aukusitino, but he’s asked for a judge to not hold it against the young father-to-be.
“I forgave you months ago, I hold no hate, no anger, it was all unlucky,” his statement read aloud in the Wellington District Court today said.
Judge Mike Mika responded by discharging the Marist St Pats player without conviction.
The two players were in the second half of a Wellington Rugby Football Union-hosted Seven’s series match at Upper Hutt’s Maidstone Park on the morning of November 14 in 2020 when the fight broke out.
Aukusitino and Studd, a member of the Petone Rugby Club, were both throwing punches when one from Aukusitino landed, connecting with Studd’s right eye.
In court today, Studd’s family showed compassion in asking that Aukusitino face no legal repercussions following a successful and healing restorative justice session that took place in March.
“No conviction, no fines, no reparation, go and be a good father,” Studd’s dad told Aukusitino, who is expecting his first child this year.
Judge Mika acknowledged the impact the restorative justice process had had for both families.
“I found the report to be one of a very positive, genuine and healing conference for not only you and your aiga [family] that are present but for the victim and his whānau.”
Aukusitino pleaded guilty to one charge of wounding with reckless disregard in December and has since done significant work in his community, on his anger management, and towards healing his relationship with the victim and their family.
Crown prosecutor Grant Burston said the Crown was in the hands of the court when it came to today’s outcome.
“The Crown notes the wishes of the victim and his family that through the restorative justice process that no conviction should be entered in this case,” Burston said.
Burston did reiterate, however, that sports clubs must understand punching someone on a sports field where it causes injury is serious criminal offending.
Aukusitino’s lawyer Tim Castle said both rugby clubs have since united to pledge commitment against violence on, and off, the rugby field.
“They have come together as leaders of a rugby club to commit to the way in which they guide young men and women playing the game,” Castle said.
Judge Mika said the fact leaders and members of Aukusitino’s club had been present throughout the court process, despite his two-year ban, he was a testament to their support, and his character.
“That is a credit to you Mr Aukusitino,” Judge Mika said.
Castle said the offending and court process had caused a deep shame to Aukusitino and his family, who had suffered a personal tragedy since that day.
“The shadow of this case has hovered above him in circumstances that have been deeply distressing,” Castle said.
In sentencing, Judge Mika also acknowledged this.
“You are embarrassed and ashamed that your family have been targeted with negative comments as a result of your offending.”
Judge Mika outlined the extent to which Aukusitino had given back to his community, giving 30 hours to a local playcentre and 20 hours to the rugby clubrooms in maintenance work.
One statement from a playcentre employee said the work Aukusitino had done made their center safer and more welcoming for tamariki and whānau.
“Everything that could be asked of this young man, and those who support him, has been done,” Castle said.
Judge Mika spoke of Aukusitino’s youth leadership work and volunteer hours delivering Christmas packages through the Graeme Dingle Foundation.